GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Let's take a look at this account.
We are in Matthew 14:22-33.
We will begin with the Gospel and then as usual we will go back to the Old Testament and try to make some connections here.
So Matthew 14:22-33 says this:
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.
And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.
But immediately he spoke to them, saying, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”
And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.”
He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me."
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?"
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God.”
Let's pause there.
There is a lot going on in this very important passage from the Gospel of Matthew.
We will try to walk through it step-by-step and look at several key points.
Number one, it is important to recall the setting of this miracle.
It takes place after the famous feeding of the 5000 in the Gospel of Matthew.
So one of the reasons this is important to highlight is because the same sequence occurs in three of the four Gospels.
So for example, in Matthew, Mark and in John, all those Gospels have accounts of the walking of Jesus on the water, and in all three that that account immediately follows the feeding of the 5000.
So it's like a pair of miracles.
Jesus feeds the 5000 and then he walks on the water.
So it's in the wake of him having performed this amazing miracle of feeding 5000 people from five loaves and two fish, that Jesus then withdraws and he goes up the mountain to pray.
So it gets late and then while he is up on the mountain praying, the disciples set off across the sea of Galilee in the boat.
Now a couple of elements about the context.
Where exactly does this take place on the sea of Galilee?
Well we don’t have the exact location, but we do know that the sea of Galilee to this day is not a small lake.
It is about 7 miles wide at its widest point, and it was the kind of beating heart of Galilee.
It was a place of fishing and of industry, and the disciples knew it well.
And when they're in their boat, this is important, the first thing you notice is that they are not right next to shore.
It says they are many furlongs distant from the land.
Now in John's account of this miracle he actually says they are about 4 miles from the shore.
Matthew just says many furlongs, but the point is, number one, that they're not next to the shore.
Sometimes you will have skeptics who are talking about the miracle who will make the claim that the disciples saw Jesus walking on the bank or something like that and they thought he was walking on the water, or they saw Jesus walking on a sandbar near the shore and they assumed he was walking on the water.
No, they are in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night and by the way, the disciples were fishermen so I think they knew the difference between walking on water and walking on a sandbar.
I am sorry, it is just frustrating sometimes the things people add into the text.
That is eisegesis, reading into the text.
The text is very clear that they are in the middle of the water, they are far from the shore.
Also notice the time, it's the fourth watch of the night.
So this is in the middle of the night, sometime between 3 o'clock and 6 o'clock in the morning.
Now most of us wouldn’t get on a boat and be out in the in the middle of the night between 3 and 6 AM, but for the Apostles they were pretty used to this because as fishermen it was actually customary to fish at night.
We see that in the Gospel of John, that they spent all night fishing and they don't catch anything.
So they are traveling in the middle of night, something they are pretty used to.
What they are not used to, however, is being on the water in the middle of the night, in the middle of the lake, and seeing a man coming out to them walking on the waves of the sea.
And that's what Jesus does here in this account, he comes to them walking on the sea.
Now when they experience this, their first reaction is fear and they assume that he is a ghost.
That is a pretty interesting point there because it shows us that apparently
at least some of the disciples believed in ghosts — you can also translate this as spirit.
So they don't think that this is a normal human being coming to them on the water.
Jesus says something very interesting, he says “take heart…don't be afraid.”
Now pause there for a second.
This is a clue to us that we should characterize this account of Jesus walking on the water as a theophany.
A theophany, as I have mentioned in other videos, is an appearance of God.
It is where God reveals his power, glory and presence to his people on earth; and one of the things you will see over and over again in accounts of theophanies in the Bible, is that people are always afraid.
When they see God, they're afraid; and God's response to their fear is often to quell it, to say
be calm, don’t be afraid,” and then to speak to them, to give them some message.
So in this case Jesus says “take heart…have no fear,” and then he says “it is I.”
Now the literal Greek behind that expression which most Bibles render “it is I,” is egō eimi,
which literally in Greek means “take heart, I am
It is not quite the same thing as “it is me.”
Literally, it just says “take heart, I am.”
Now on the one hand, the expression “I am”, egō eimi,
can be used to identify someone.
So if I asked you a question “is it you?”
And you say “I am,” you could respond by saying “yes, it's me.”
So that can be the sense or the meaning of it.
But the literal meaning of the word in context is more than that.
Jesus isn't just identifying himself, he's also taking the divine name of God from the Old Testament and using it as his own.
So in other words, he is alluding to the most famous theophany in the Bible, the theophany, the appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus 3.
So in that theophany God comes to Moses and he calls Moses to go to the people of Israel, who were slaves in Egypt, and to set them free and to bring a message of deliverance.
And Moses says well “if I go to them whose name shall I give them?
What name will I tell them is the name of the God who sent me?”
And the Lord says to Moses “I am who I am. Tell them I am has sent you to them…This is my name for all generations” God goes on to say.
So the expression “I Am” is more than just an identification, it is the divine name.
So when you take Jesus' use of the term “I Am,” you couple it with the fact that he is walking on water and that he's saying “don't be afraid” — which is standard theophany language from the Old Testament — those three things together show us that Jesus is revealing his divinity, that he's revealing that he is not just fully human, he is also divine.
I bring this up because it's one of those points where skeptics will say “how can we know that Jesus of Nazareth actually claimed to be divine?
If you look at the Gospels, the only Gospel where he explicitly claimed to be divine is the Gospel of John, where he says ‘I and the Father are one’ in John 10, or ‘before Abraham was, I am’ in John 8.
Jesus never claims to be divine in the synoptic Gospels.”
Well nothing could be further from the truth.
The walking on water is one of the most explicit accounts of Jesus's revelation of his divinity because he says to the Apostles “take heart, I am.”
So just as in the Gospel of John, when Jesus wants to reveal his divinity he says “before Abraham was, I am [egō eimi
] (John 8:58), so too in the synoptic Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus wants to reveal his divinity he doesn't say “hey everybody, I am God,” he says “take heart, I am [egō eimi
],” he reveals his divinity.
Now sometimes skeptics will also say “well all he's saying here is it is me, he is just identifying himself.”
I won't deny that he's identifying himself, that is clear in the story because Peter is going to go on to say “Lord if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.”
So there is some question here about whether it's him or not because they think it's a ghost.
But he isn’t just identifying himself because he is using the divine name in the context of walking on water, it is in the context of a miracle of divine power.
That's the point here.
So it's both a display of his power and a revelation of his divinity.
He can take the name of God as his own because he is God, but come as man.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So what he says here is:
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed…
And the Greek word there, anathema
—we get the word anathema from that. He could wish that he:
...were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren…
And then the RSV says here:
...my kinsmen by race.
That’s an unfortunate translation, because there is no actual word for race. Race is a kind of a more modern concept. The Greek word is...you’ll have ethnos
, like a people. And Paul doesn’t actually even use that here. What he says is: “my brethren kata sarka
”—my brethren according to the flesh. It’s literally what he says. So:
...I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren…
...according to the flesh. And Paul will make this distinction often—the flesh and the spirit, the old creation and the new creation. So Paul is brother to Gentiles, according to the spirit—those who have been baptized are his brothers in Christ. But the Israelites, even those who don’t believe in Jesus, are his brethren...but they’re his brethren according to the flesh rather than according to the spirit. Hope that makes a little more sense of what he’s talking about here. He says:
They are Israelites… (Romans 9:4a)
So remember Paul is Jewish. Jesus is Jewish. He’s a member of the people of Israel, so he’s speaking here in particular about all those who by blood are descended from Jacob or who are descended from Israel—the ancestor, the great patriarch, Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob is the one who’s renamed Israel. So he says:
They are Israelites…
And then he lists...he gives a list of the various privileges of the people of Israel, a list of the gifts that God has given to the Chosen People of Israel. And I just want to walk through that list with you and make sure you understand it, because it’s the bulk of the reading for today. So he says:
...to them belong [number one] the sonship…
What does that mean, the sonship? This is very important to grasp. In modern times, it has become very popular for us to say all human beings are children of God. And there’s a real sense in which that’s true, because all human beings are created by God in His image and in His likeness. So just like a father gives life to his son or daughter, so too God as creator is like a father and all human beings are like his children. They bear His image and they bear His likeness.
But that’s not what Paul means when he talks about the sonship, because the sonship in the Old Testament has to do with the covenant relationship between God and Israel, in particular. Because what happens is, in Genesis chapter 1 and 2, although Adam and Eve are created in the image and likeness of God at the beginning, through sin they break that relationship with God. They break that covenant with God. And they retain His image, so to speak, but they lose His likeness. The likeness is distorted through sin. And so the rest of the story of salvation is about God calling His children to be like Him again and restoring that relationship through the gift of the covenant.
You can see this is Exodus chapter 4:22. When God sends Moses to Pharaoh to bring the twelve tribes out of Israel, His reason (Exodus 4:22) is:
Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me”...
So there’s a unique relationship between God and Israel that is a result of the covenants that God had made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. So when Paul says theirs is the sonship, he’s talking about that special relation of adopted sons of God, that relationship with God.
Second, he says theirs is the glory. Okay, what does that mean? “The glory” there is another technical term for the glory cloud. So if you remember the glory of God’s presence in Exodus 40, after the people of Israel enter into the covenant in Exodus 24, they build a tabernacle in Exodus 25. And then in Exodus 40, once they finish the tabernacle—which takes the rest of the book of Exodus to describe the exact details and then how Moses follows those, and they build the tabernacle—it says:
...the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
So the glory is a special reference to the glory cloud—the shekinah
the rabbis would later call it—of God’s presence. So He’s present with His people in a special way through the cloud of glory.
Number three, Paul says theirs are the covenants. Notice the plural there. It’s not just one covenant with God—between God and Israel. There are multiple covenants. So you have the covenant with Abraham that is made in Genesis chapter—well, actually, there are several covenants, but the three parts of one covenant. Just don’t get me started on that. But Genesis 12-22 is the tri fold covenant of Abraham. You can read my Introduction to the Old Testament
with Dr. John Bergsma, and we’ll take you through that.
But you have the covenant with Abraham, then you have a different covenant that’s made with Moses in Exodus 24. Then you have another covenant that’s made again with Moses, 40 years later in Deuteronomy 28. Then you have the covenant with David that’s made, so there are multiple covenants in the Old Testament. And Paul is saying those various stages of covenant relationship with God, that all belongs to the people of Israel.
The giving of the law—think here of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. That’s given to Israel, especially. God doesn’t appear to every nation in the world and give a revelation of the Decalogue. That’s a gift that is particular to Israel.
Paul also says that theirs is the worship. What does that mean? You might think, “Well, pagans can worship God too. They can worship the creator.” Well, yeah, but “the worship” means the temple, the tabernacle, and the specific regulations of worship that God reveals to Israel in the book of Exodus, as well as the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, where He lays out a calendar of worship for certain feasts—Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles. These are specific acts of worship that are revealed by God. So when Paul talks about the worship, he’s talking about the liturgical calendar of the people of Israel. That’s a special gift given just to them. It’s a supernatural revelation.
Promises, number six. With those words, he’s referring to the prophecies of the gifts that are to come in the age of salvation—promises like the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31), the promise of a new heart (Ezekiel 36), the promise of a new creation (Isaiah 65-66). So all those promises that are made to the prophets, that’s something that God gives specifically to the people of Israel.
So you’ve got all these gifts, all these privileges of the people of Israel, that show God’s love for them as His Chosen People—the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the law, the liturgy, the promises, the patriarchs, Paul goes on. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these great saints of the Old Testament...all of this leads up to the greatest gift of all, the greatest privilege of all, Paul says:
...and of their race…
Again, the word race is inserted here, it’s not actually in the text. It just says from them:
...according to the flesh…
...is ho christos
, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. He comes from the people of Israel. He’s the greatest of all their privileges. And then Paul says:
...God who is over all be blessed for ever.
We’ll get to the God part in just a second, but for now, two points. First, sometimes people will say that Paul has changed the title Messiah to just the name for Jesus—because he talks about Christ, Christ Jesus, and that kind of thing. Well, there’s some degree to which that’s true, in the sense that he uses it in a way that sounds as if it’s just a name. But he is not in any way eliminated the titular aspect of Messiah, like the idea that it’s a title. Because right here he says ho christos
Anointed One, the
Messiah. So here he’s talking about the ancient Jewish hope for the coming of an anointed king in the future who would come and fulfill the promises and fulfill the covenants and fulfill the worship and fulfill the law—the one who they were longing for, the one who they were hoping for. The Christ comes from Israel, according to the flesh.
So this is just a great example of the fact that although Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, he in no way obscures or diminishes the Jewish identity of Jesus Himself, as well as the many gifts and privileges of the people of Israel as the Chosen People of God.
So if you know any of my works and many of my writings, I frequently do a lot of work on the Jewish roots of Christianity. Well, remember, Paul is as thoroughly Jewish as Jesus Himself is, and he makes that very clear in Romans 9:1-5. The Jewish roots of the Gospel is on display in the reading for today.
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